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Sona showdown may shape Zuma and Malema’s political future

Any major confrontation may embarrass South Africa further.

Get the popcorn and reserve your seats. This year’s State of the Nation (Sona) address could be one of the more exciting in years. We may just witness a showdown between President Jacob Zuma and the EFF’s Julius Malema – which will most likely end in a spectacular embarrassment for the country.

The 2015 Sona will be in stark comparison with last year’s event, where a frail looking Zuma offered a cure for insomnia. This year, Zuma seems to be fighting fit and all eyes will be on him to gauge the way he reacts to any confrontation from Malema and the EFF.

The key question is whether he will show real leadership and take charge of the situation, or merely bat the responsibility to Parliamentary Speaker Baleka Mbete?

The president has already indicated that he may allow Mbete to lead (which is a risk in itself) to squash any EFF interventions, but Zuma is a streetwise politician and may just react in the heat of the moment.

Whatever transpires, his reaction may be telling and could have a significant impact on his political future, as well as on the future of Malema. The pressure is not only on Zuma.

There could be dire consequences if Malema does not deliver on his promises to confront the president. Zuma, on the other hand, needs to show he can manage the protestations from a minority party.

It will also be interesting to assess the public’s reaction to any confrontation. Malema may enjoy more support than the 1.17 million votes he attracted last year, as members of several other minority parties may side with his opposition to Zuma. Time will tell.

SA needs Zuma’s views

Unfortunately, the much-awaited confrontation may scupper the stature and importance of the Sona. Zuma rarely speaks to the nation and it is imperative that he uses this platform to address several key challenges facing the country.

It is important that South Africans hear Zuma’s perspective of the Eskom crisis, and how government plans to resurrect the ailing economy. We also need to hear how government plans to arrest the crumbling of governance structures within key state-owned enterprises such as Eskom, SAA, the Post Office and the SABC, as well as at the Hawks and the South African Revenue Service.

Unfortunately, any confrontation will overshadow references to these problems (it may even give Zuma an easy out not to address these challenges).

Inspiration

All of this is really a sideshow and may distract Zuma from doing what is urgently needed. South Africa needs a bit of inspiration. The national psyche is currently extremely negative and a lot has to do with a waning trust in the ability of the government to do the right things.

In fact, I don’t think I have ever felt such a massive negativity among ordinary South Africans since the euphoria of 1994. The negativity is almost tangible, and stretches to all sectors of society. Politically, it is not limited to the ranks of the opposition parties, but also includes many within the ANC.

Stranger things have happened

Unfortunately, an encouraging address will in all likelihood not happen. Zuma has never been inspirational. This was never more evident than during last year’s address.

There is however one ray of hope. Last year Zuma surprised when he shouldered the responsibility to resolve the highly charged strike in the platinum mining industry.

At the time it was a significant and bold move as the country was still reeling from the Marikana massacre the previous year. Zuma took the responsibility from his then deputy and soon-to-be-fired Kgalema Motlanthe.

Since this announcement, it seems as if he has actually achieved some success.

There seems to be some stability in the sector, although the success of any intervention will only become clear when the next round of wage negotiations starts.

This year’s crisis is Eskom.

It would be interesting to see whether Zuma also steps up to the plate this year, and personally takes responsibility to address the Eskom crisis. It is clear that some sort of intervention is needed and hopefully Zuma sees this as an opportunity to announce new plans to address the problem. I doubt whether we will hear the word ‘privatisation’, but hopefully the phrase ‘selling of non-core assets’ features extensively and repeatedly.

Stranger things have happened.

Popcorn

The public can however be assured that the 2015 Sona is one of the most anticipated in recent history, and if all goes according to plan, it will be one to remember.

So get some popcorn, settle down before the start and expect some excellent entertainment. Unfortunately, the most likely result will be that South Africa ends up in the foreign media for the wrong reasons, again.

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